I watched a fascinating tv documentary last night about Peter Green, the brilliant guitarist who created and led the band Fleetwood Mac. There was a period from around 1968 – 1971 when I was in my late teens which was a golden age spawning some of the best blues/rock musicians who produced some of the most sublime contemporary music ever. Like most things my musical tastes have mellowed and broadened over the years but if ever a period defined my core musical loves, it was then. A number of songs from that brilliant guitar-led generation still stand up as absolute classics and will forever remain in my personal top 20, though it’s rather poignant to remember how briefly the sun shone for some of the musicians.
I’m pleased to see that Peter Green has survived and is apparently well and performing as strongly as ever after a very dark period but more on him later. But the guitar genius who marked the early phase of that period had to be Hendrix. I was hooked from the words ‘Hey Joe’ – which I was staggered to learn was released as early as 1966. But I guess he reached the pinnacle when he ‘stole’ the show at Woodstock in 1969. I saw him perform with the JH Experience in more prosaic surroundings at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool. There were some big names on the show that night; The Nice (later to become Emerson, Lake and Palmer), Pink Floyd (with Syd Barrett), The Move, Amen Corner and others but Hendrix just blew them away. I’d never seen guitar-playing like it, nor anything to touch him since. He died in 1970. His legacy – some real classics like Purple Haze and Voodoo Chile but also a number of songs that he covered and took them to another level, like this Bob Dylan-penned beauty:
Two other bands who graced this period with some great songs and sensational live performances; one relatively briefly and the other with more lasting success were Free and Led Zeppelin. I’ve written about them both before and won’t go over the same ground. But it’s interesting though sad to see how addictions and the untimely deaths of two leading figures – Free’s Paul Kossoff and LZ drummer John Bonham – also proved traumatic, creatively and in a performance sense for these bands.
And so back to Peter Green, who was recruited by John Mayall to replace some guy called Eric Clapton in the Bluesbreakers. No mean feat of course as Clapton was being hailed as the guitar God of his generation and initially Green was widely regarded as unfit to wipe Clapton’s plectrum. But Mayall could spot talent and it wasn’t long before his new lead guitarist was being viewed as a truly great blues musician and vocalist. Green reached a point where he was keen to expand his repertoire and Mayall gifted Green and fellow band members Mick Fleetwood and John McVie time outside the Bluesbreaker format to produce their own stuff.
It proved to be a more than generous gesture as Green eventually persuaded the two to leave Mayall to set up a new band named in honour of the JMB rhythm-duo, Fleetwood Mac. It was typical of Green’s modest desire to down-play his own profile in the band. They were joined by slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer and for a two year period produced some of the most atmospheric blues-rock sounds ever-produced, including Black Magic Woman, Need Your Love So Bad, the haunting Albatross and the somewhat darker Man of the World and Green Manalishi.
Around this time Green recruited Danny Kirwan as another lead guitarist (not many bands could accommodate 3 players and egos in the same unit) to help share the writing task. Creatively Kirwan added a new dimension but it seems that he and Green became increasingly drink and drug-addicted. Whilst things continued for a while Green’s dependency on acid led to severe mental problems and his eventual institutionalisation. Kirwan was later sacked from the band and dropped out of the music scene many years ago to live the life of a recluse.
Thankfully Peter Green has his life back on track and appears to have emerged re-energised and pretty together. He’s been performing for some time and is writing again. Jeremy Spence went off to join a religious sect but he too has emerged in recent years in really good shape. Apparently Fleetwood Mac went on to become rather big.
To finish I thought I’d conclude with some old footage of the band. We may never see guitar-dominated music and soulful blues like this in the charts again. Oh Well
Great singing Pete but the neck-scarf and moustache are tragic. I’d forgotten about the fashion.